The University Senate is a political institution made up of all members of the university faculty. It serves as a forum for faculty opinion on issues affecting the campus, and has also functioned as a social organization for professors. The university regents first officially recognized the University Senate in March, 1859, although the faculty may have met as a body prior to that date. The influence of the Senate was probably greatest during the 19th Century. In that era, faculty members played a strong role in the administration of the university, both through the formal meetings of the Senate and through less formal consultation with the university president.
In the early 20th century, the nature of university governance began to change. Faculty participation in policy formation declined as decisions were increasingly made by a growing class of professional administrators. The administrative reorganization of 1906-07 hinted at the beginning of this change. At that time, the powers of the University Senate were transferred to a smaller executive body, the Senate Council, which balanced representatives of the administration and those of the faculty. Despite this change, the division between faculty and administrators remained indistinct at this stage. Members of the faculty continued to have a strong role in administrative decision making and most administrators were faculty members who continued to teach classes. Nevertheless, the structure of the new Senate Council recognized a growing gap between the duties of faculty and administrators.
In 1931, the Senate transferred all its power to a new organization, the University Council, which replaced the Senate Council. The University Council was composed of administration officials and elected faculty members from each school and department. Its creation reflected the continued growth of the administration, and represented another attempt to balance representation between faculty and administrators. In 1937, the unmanageable size of the University Council led to the creation of a smaller executive body, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA). SACUA consisted of some members elected by the Senate and others chosen by the Dean's Conference. SACUA members represented the Senate in the University Council and reported to the Senate. In 1940, the importance of SACUA was diminished with the creation of another executive governing body, the Advisory Board on University Policies. This new body was appointed by the Board of Regents, and therefore weakened faculty control over university governance. In 1948, University Council had ceded most of its functions to these smaller executive bodies and was dissolved. The same year, SACUA was restructured to serve as an executive body of the Senate, with its members elected at-large by the Senate.
In 1965, the University Senate again reorganized faculty governance by creating a body called the Senate Assembly. The new body consisted of sixty-five members elected to represent the various colleges and schools of the university. The Assembly served as the legislative arm of the Senate and elected the members of SACUA.
Researchers interested in the nature of faculty governance might wish to consult Nicholas Steneck's 1991 SACUA report, Faculty Governance at the University of Michigan: Principles, History, and Practice, which is in the holdings of the Bentley Historical Library (Call number: Fimu B31a.3 S 825).
From the guide to the Senate (University of Michigan) records, 1880-1995, 1906-1987, (Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)